Sunshine on Leith indeed!
As we are now well and truly into Spring in Scotland’s capital city, I went down to our port recently for a wander. The changes in Leith have been sweeping in the last 30 years. The old Georgian and Victorian dwellings that were in some semblance of disrepair have been getting spruced up and the pubs and restaurants have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps! Michelin Guide eateries and gastropubs abound, not to everyones delight it has to be said, however the old style boozer has nearly had its day.
As part of the “Sunny Leith” walk – see www.edinburghwalks.com – I take visitors down Water Street, formerly known as Rotten Row, where amongst other interesting sights we come across Lamb’s House, which is on the corner with Burgess Street .
The history of this property is difficult to pin down. This is not the original merchants house on the land as the Earl of Hereford’s English army burnt down much of Leith under Henry VIII’s orders in 1544. Indeed historians are uncertain about the exact age. There are those who attribute it to the mid-sixteenth century, basing their assumption on a contemporary record which claims that Mary Queen of Scots “remainit in Andro Lamb’s hous be the space of an hour” on her arrival from France on the 19th August 1561. In fact she landed only 100 metres away on Leith’s Shore.
Mary had set out from France for Scotland after a 13 year absence and arrived two weeks earlier than expected in Leith in poor, foggy weather. The Palace of Holyrood House was not ready to receive her so she visited Lamb……or did she.
Whilst the Lamb’s were a well known family in Leith, there is not the evidence to confirm whether this visit to Lamb’s House did take place – or even if the building existed when Mary arrived in Leith. The building we see is one of the finest surviving merchant’s houses in Scotland and dates from around 1610. But it is thought her late mother Mary of Guise had a Palace in Rotten Row nearby and this is where she stopped.
However, Lamb’s House was a dwelling for the Lamb family and a warehouse for his goods. There are religious family connections and a descendent of Lamb, a Dr. Cheyne lived here with his family from 1800-1822.
By the early 20th century the house was in a state of disrepair and it was only by the intervention of the Marquis of Bute and then the National Trust for Scotland that the property was saved from demolition. I knew it for a long time as a day centre for the elderly people of Leith.
By the beginning of the 21st century it was again in danger of falling into disrepair whilst many of the surrounding buildings were coming to life with the renewed interest in Leith properties and businesses. The building then had a dramatic change of use. Over £1 million was spent on restoring and upgrading the building to its former glory. And what a splendid sight it is.
The property is now the offices of an architect and the base for the Icelandic Consul to Scotland. Whilst it is not open to the public, The Pavilion building on site is available to rent as overnight accommodation.
It really is worth a visit to this beautiful building, even if the visit of Mary Queen of Scots to Mr Lamb is in question.